Landscape Help!

FshyPlnts(5, 6)February 16, 2012

I am a student at Messiah College. I am helping a group called "Earth Keepers" with landscaping around a satellite house called the Restoration House. The house has a strong focus on sustainability and the environment. Unfortunately there is current no landscaping done around the house. We were given $500 to do whatever we please with the grounds. The school has a seemingly endless supply of compost, soil, and mulch, so these things are not a problem. We also have access to a number of different trees and ferns.

The difficult part is that we do not know where to start. There are a number of landscapers and landscape engineers on campus, but we need to make up a couple different plans to present to them.

Any help with bed and plant ideas would be wonderful! The more environmentally effective, the better. (Such as strategic placement of shade trees, etc).

These are some pictures of the grounds. Thanks you all for any help you can provide!

-Paul Nickerson


-Kristen Listor

Earth Keepers

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We should start from designing,maybe your designers like nature,I will see their comments.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 2:41AM
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I don't understand why you have to present plans to the very people who's job it is to be making the plans.

Are you sure you need to present plans, or are you supposed to come up with ideas of what kind of landscaping you are trying to achieve?

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 11:29AM
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FshyPlnts(5, 6)

It's a project that is being designed and acheived by the student group. The goal is for us to search for possible Ideas for the landscape, put together some we like and follow through with them. The professional designers are there just to look over our plans to make sure we don't do anything really bad. Our problem right now is that we are unsure where to start. I thought it would be beneficial to tap into the wealthy of knowledge available here.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 1:35PM
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Ahh. That makes sense now. :)

First, what are you trying to do?
Do you just make it look nicer?
Grow your own food?
Create a park with a play ground?
Do you want it to be more private?
What exactly are your goals?

Who is going to maintain it over the years, once your group has moved on in life?

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 2:11PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

A few points for you to consider and discuss with your student group:

Define your objectives; what should the garden DO? Provide shade? Direct foot traffic to a certain destination? Delight the eye?

Start with the general and end with specifics.
The "bones" of a garden come first: hardscape, such as paths, retaining walls, irrigation, etc.

Carefully consider placement of what will become large immovable objects, such as trees. Educate yourself about mature sizes of the plants you intend to use. Consider exposure; how does the sun affect the garden as it moves across the sky?

Plan for the future: who will maintain the garden, and how?

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 2:23PM
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Why is the property called "Restoration House"? And will the reason for that name ultimately form the core of your design focus?

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 2:54PM
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Thanks to the internet I have just visited your campus and the Restoration house which houses 6 students. The THEME of the house is..."To live in a mutual relationship with the environment, raise awareness of global injustices, and restore the image of Messiah students living off campus. (Note to self, what the heck does that latter remark mean?)
SERVICE COMMITMENT; Offer a weekly meal to students, staff, and neighbors; limit the amount of energy and waste; and donate food to a local shelter."

So, first thoughts revolved around vegetable gardening until I noted that you have a successful student run Grantham Community Garden and Earth Keepers efforts should also be directed to that effort.

Suggest that you invite the head of the Harrisburg Cooperative Extension Office to meet with your group, a person very familiar with the "green" world to help you define your objectives and offer ideas.

BTW, your photograph does not show the rear of the house and barn.

And as an aside...I note that one of the Goals and Objectives of your college is to...."Restore close ties between men and women in household environments." Darn! I went to college 60 years too soon.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 3:55PM
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I was thinking that your project might lend itself to a traditional type of heritage garden, like a potager (veg, herbs, annuals and small trees) or a parterre (basically flowers with shrubbery)...or whatever herbaceous arrangement you choose.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2012 at 9:36PM
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Other posters here have given you good ideas of some of the things you'll need to think about in order to pull the whole thing off: access, functional uses of space, appearance, etc. I'll try to focus on primarily the appearance aspect of your endeavor.

first, I'd try to grasp just what you have in its simplest terms; pretty uninteresting, eh?...

What makes this building more interesting? Architectural features: windows, doors, shutters, eaves, corners, edges, portico, mailbox, stoop...essentially, anything added to the original basic shape of the structure. In the picture below, it's anything represented by a white line. (Please ignore the skewed lines. MS Paint is a little clunky at this scale.)

While the interest level has increased, we might want it to be greater. But let's make up a rule that we won't cover up anything that's already interesting. For me, this is a 90% rule. I might allow a little something to be covered if if there's a good reason for it... like, for example, if I'm adding a really beautiful plant that needs a touch more space. I don't mind if a little foliage "touches" some of the white lines. It might give the building a "nestled in" look. If you strike a match you see that the flame always goes up. In landscaping, since plants are the primary decorative objects that we use, we need to understand that they're like fire, they always grow upward, too. Even if some of them ultimately hang down, they're growing upward to get there. So let's look for places on our building where we could "plant" some "fire" without covering any of the white lines. It might look like this...

If anyone working on this project has taken an art class, they'll probably notice that what we've done so far is identify "negative" and "positive" space on our building. That's the space where there's SOME THING vs space where there is NO THING... just blankness.

While I've identified places on the building where it's OK to cover with plants, I'm not saying that the goal has become to cover all these places. I note that some of the places are pretty confined and it would be difficult to fit plants into them. So when we get to picking plants, we'll pick plants that will fill most of what we want to cover, without overdoing it (grow too much and become a maintenance burden in order to keep from covering the good architectural features.) Also, it's not going to be our goal to have all the plants jammed right up to the architectural features (white lines.) We want to give these things some "breathing room" if we can. Therefore, some of the spaces between windows and the like will probably be too narrow to allow any plants. We'll work out the battles between architectural features and plants, when we pick the plants.

I see a problem looming. All of the spaces I can deem OK to cover with plants are bordered with square, hard edges. Plants, on the other hand, are usually round and fuzzy. I think to accommodate this, I will bump my 90% rule about what not to cover down a little...maybe to 80 or 85% and just learn to live with it. I guess I'm saying let's make a good effort not to cover doors and windows, etc. but a little is OK. Hey, Landscaping seems pretty easy to get away with some fudging here and there! Here's another rule: you can break any rule, just have good justification for doing it. Landscaping is frequently a balancing act where doing one thing changes the need to do something different somewhere else. It's balancing all the factors until you can get them working together as harmoniously as possible.

Since the eaves are one area that I don't want to cover, but the roof has a lot of blank space, I guess I'll be allowing tree canopies up there, but not large shrubs that cover the house on their way up to and in front of the roof.

Let's note that it's NOT necessary to always cover up the foundation of a building. It depends on how much space is there, what the foundation looks like (lot's of time they're unattractive) and what the plant choice options are. I can't tell from your fuzzy picture, how much needs to be covered.

Before I pause, let's look at one more thing. Most of the time, when addressing the front face of a building, it is the main entrance which is automatically the primary focal point. It's what we want people to see and notice. Rather than obscuring the entrance, we want people to perceive and understand it immediately. We don't want people to have to spend time studying a view in order to comprehend where the entrance is and how to access it. The building architect has already started this process by putting extra features at the entrance. It's our job to carry it forth. In thinking of how to do this, let's visualize a giant invisible "funnel" that leads to the entrance door (the center of the entrance.) The space within the funnel, we'll keep clear. We don't want to obstruct the view to the entrance or place a barricade that physically obstructs access to it. Outside the funnel is where we can place objects (mainly plants) that will stop someone's view and re-direct it to the inside of the funnel. The plants may also physically obstruct access. In the sketch below, I'm trying to illustrate a 3-dimensional funnel-like device. I think you'll get the general idea, but take it with a grain of salt. It's probably more apparent in the plan view sketch. Keep in mind... I'm suggesting plants may be placed outside the funnel to direct (obstruct) a view and to obstruct access. I'm not saying that one must actually fill all this space with plants. Good taste, practicality and budget will be factors.

Let's take a break!

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 3:14AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

If the primary objective for new additional or replacement landscaping is to make it more sustainable and less energy intensive; focusing on the aesthetics is not the place to start. You should start at the more general level and think about how new landscaping can reduce energy use within the house by the obvious means of summer shading versus winter sun, whether the existing landscaping requires too much energy inputs to maintain it versus alternative styles/types of landscaping, whether an approach that emphasizes use of native plants or exotics that require less fertilizing, irrigation, regular trimming while also providing habitat and food for local fauna are some of your goals. The concept of composting waste food scraps as well as yard waste would also be prime examples of more sustainable design, as well as looking to recycle elements within the landscape rather than import elements such as stone or concrete.

As you are students and supposedly meant to learn something from this exercise, I think you need to expend more thought within your group to identify your objectives before you seek any design input. Your rather open ended request for help without showing you've given it enough initial thought sounds like you're short circuiting the whole process by not putting the initial work into the process. There are plenty of books out there that address how landscaping can be utilized to make residences less energy intensive, as well as addressing related topics of how to minimize water runoff from roofs which could be re-used within the landscape rather than impacting peak flows of surrounding watersheds,etc. I'd suggest you go to the library, or have this conversation with the students studying horticulture or landscape architecture or permiculture if you have such departments/majors at your college. It isn't clear to me why this project would be assigned to your two groups if it isn't a learning exercise, or you are already expected to have some interest or expertise or at a minimum, intellectual curiosity to do some initial research into the topic. Excuse me if I seem a bit too judgemental here, but it sounds more like a first grade student wanting to be told how to do an assignment, rather than thinking out your own approach.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 4:55PM
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Nicely put David. I had a reply in mind but mine was slightly more blunt than your typically polite affair so thank you for that.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 5:36PM
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FshyPlnts(5, 6)

Hello again everyone!
Thanks so much for all of the help and direction as we work through this. We are having a meeting tonight and will go over some of these questions people have posed.

Also, I just wanted to clarify that this is a project we picked up on out own. It is not at all an assignment or expected of us to work on this. We therefor or not trying to find any easy way out of a learning experience, we are actually taking on a project that we are not required to engage in. Taking this project upon ourselves, on top of out typically work and research loads is completely our own decision and desire. Because of this, we are trying to get this groundwork of this project established as quickly and as easily as possible.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 5:51PM
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FshyPlnts, I did understand your question and hopefully you will contact the director of your Harrisburg Cooperative Extension Office to meet with your group. This is an experienced person and educator who can put you in touch with the many resources which should be available in your area. You will never know what free services, help and ideas are out there unless you put yourselves in a position to search. Personally I would enjoy following your "process" of problem solving and final decisions when you have time to update.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 7:06PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

I'd suggest that adding to your group someone that actually has some background in landscape design, specifically the area of defining your specific sustainability issues and potentials and being able to prioritize them within your miniscule budget is a critical first step. Access to plants and soil/mulch is not going to address sustainability issues in any real way if you don't start with a design process that

actively addresses real sustainability. That in fact might have a better result if it addresses process and maintenance approaches and pest control rather than new plantings. Setting the household up with a composting bin and teaching them how to use it in the garden. Also, just doing a new design with plants needing minimal additional irrigation, fertilizing and/or treatment for pests would be a nudge towards more sustainability. These points are all a starting point when discussing sustainable landscaping.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 10:57PM
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Bahia, to me, regarding "Excuse me if I seem a bit too judgemental here..." the tone of your message sounds somewhat overbearing. As I read the original post, it sounds as if the main focus is a desire for landscaping, and that the sustainability concern is a secondary factor. As I read your post, "If the primary objective for new additional or replacement landscaping is to make it more sustainable..." it sounds as if you are trying to reverse the OP's priorities and make "sustainability" the primary focus. To say that "The house has a strong focus on sustainability and the environment." I read as meaning that the activities of the house have to do with sustainability, and the OP's state they would like this to carry over to the landscape project. But I see nowhere that the OP is saying that the landscape project is not about landscaping, first and foremost. Paul and Kristen, you might want to clarify the priority relationship between landscaping and sustainability. My post which focuses on the logic of visual organization and aesthetics is not suggesting or telling the OP's where to start. At some point, they'll want to be dealing with landscape appearance.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 1:36AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

It wasn't clear at first that this wasn't an assigned student project, but just the names of the group and the goals of the house would seem to support the idea that such new landscaping would not have aesthetics as the main objective. This also goes to my own personal issues with emphasizing terms such as being "green" or sustainable when addressing landscape design, although the OP isn't necessarily misrepresenting their goals; but simply asking to be pointed in the right direction. I feel they'll get a lot more out of it if they can put the time in to explore the issues prior to doing a design, and hopefully realize there's much more to it. Unfortunately there probably isn't that much which can be achieved as a one shot deal with a $500 budget. Other responses have already alluded to the longer term maintenance aspects which also need to be fully thought out beyond initial installation. If the intent is really about sustainability, then the focus has to be on processes and how to reduce negative impacts on the environment while striving to work with nature. No doubt it would be nice to have it be aesthetically pleasing at the same time, but the focus on design issues seems of little relevance here, and struck me as going off on a major tangent. I see an awful lot of so called sustainable designs here locally as well as in the national press that seem more focused on greenwashing rather than logical and realistic budgets. So many homes for the rich with the latest technologies applied for expansive houses that may be five times larger than the average sized house. It's hard for me to see these sorts of projects as supporting the topic at the fundemental level. The OP's project is in no way an example of such excess, but could just as easily be a sort of greenwash if aesthetics are the driver over larger concepts of sustainable landscape design and related concepts of permaculture.

I'd suggest the OP research the very similar project of a demonstration permaculture project built by students at California Polytechnic State University at Pomona to see what others have done along these lines.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 1:58PM
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Based on what the OP's said, this looks like primarily a landscape project, albeit with a secondary objective. I've never been involved in a landscape design project where aesthetics was a tangent! Regardless, eventually, we'd get around to it.

Since these guys seem to have a lot of plant resources, other materials and various types of assistance (probably plenty of manpower,) I think they may be able to make the teeny $500 budget go pretty far.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 9:14PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

Paul and Kristen,
I see your challenge as learning the basics of landscape design combined with understanding how sustainable landscape practices can benefit a property, the environment and the people who enjoy the property at Restoration House

There is a very informative book that will be invaluable to you ( it was free at one time but is well worth whatever they may be charging for it now )
It is called 'Bay -Friendly Landscape Guidelines - Sustainable Practices for the Landscape Professional'.

There are 7 basic principles used as a guideline to help you design a concept :

1. Landscape Locally ( sounds like you have this covered ! )
2. Landscape for Less to the Landfill
3. Nurture the soil - .. again, sounds like you might have this covered with the compost
4. Conserve water
5. Conserve Energy
6. Protect Water and Air Quality
7. Create and Protect Wildlife Habitat.

You'll discover how to landscape in harmony with your natural conditions, climate and adjoining watersheds.

How to reduce waste and recycle materials while landscaping and during everyday life.
Nurturing and creating healthy soils while reducing fertilizer use. - Do you know that you can create drought tolerant soils ? ( this comes in handy in drought prone regions)

Using integrated pest management to minimize chemical use and provide for a more healthy environment

Reduce storm water runoff, erosion and air pollution by inventive grading and other land based sculpting practices.

As you probably have surmised by now, a well planned landscape is more than placing plants in pleasing arrangements, though that is a very important aspect of 'the process'.

I'd start with some basic educational info and from there you'll be able to present your concept plan to your board.

With such a minimal budget it will benefit you to have as much info as possible so that you can make the most of your decisions.

I'll throw out a couple of suggestions to get you started :
- examine your shade needs and place a deciduous tree where it will cool the house
- examine your watering needs and plant plants that are appropriate to your climate.
- examine your stormwater run off and grade accordingly so that you can recharge your aquifer.
- mulch is your best friend !

There is so much more. You might enjoy this website :

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 2:01PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

I'd also be interested to hear how this project proceeds, and which points raised here got your attention. It definitely is an animal of a different sort if you are volunteers rather than students with a class project for credit, my apologies for giving the "canned" rap about putting in your own legwork before asking for advice on how to start. I still think that if this exercise is to be more than a pretty garden renovation, you'll need to define your goals of this being environmentally better than the existing, and to what degree your efforts should contribute sustainability. The ultimate expression might simply be new plantings, soil amendments and mulch; but if the solution were to be presented for a design critique as a design studio project, you would need to present sound well thought out reasons to support any claims of being sustainable and environmentally sound. Making a new landscape more visually interesting or "pretty" may address socio-cultural benefits, but does little towards sustainability. I'll get off my soapbox now, but trumped up sustainable design which is only greenwashing really annoys me, when the fundamentals are actually too important to ignore. One great example of true sustainable design in your situation might involve recycling of construction/demolition debris such as lumber or concrete paving for reuse ijn this garden makeover, saving it from going to landfill. Recycling kitchen wastes as compost and reducing need for additional irrigation would also qualify.
Good luck quantifying your objectives, and I hope you'll follow up with your progress.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 2:32PM
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